Thursday, July 26, 2012

May You Always Be Interesting

Today I happened across this lovely post about the importance of being interesting, and how to develop it as a personal quality. The post really resonated with me, in no small part because I see a lot of my own personal history in there, too.

In school, I was never a particularly great student. I was lazy, hated doing homework, and could really only be persuaded to exert maximum effort on the subjects I really cared about (english lit, french). I had a solid B+ average for most of high school, until my junior year I got a National Merit scholarship and a very good SAT score, and suddenly started to think that maybe I should try to get into a good college. It was too late by then, of course...I got rejected by Duke, waitlisted by Wake Forest, and didn't get the kind of scholarship offers from either Wake or Mercer to make going to either one financially feasible. Florida State was free, and nearby, and my grateful parents were so happy I chose it at a time that they were financially strapped with building a new business that they bought me a car my sophomore year as a thank you gift.

At FSU, for the first time in my life, I gave a crap about school. Sort of. I got great grades my freshman year, and pretty good grades my sophomore year. Then I met Gabe, fell in love, and ran out of spending money all at the same time. I learned the hard way my junior year that it was not possible to attend a full courseload of classes, work nearly full-time, and be a lovesick twenty-one year old. I ended up not attending any classes for most of the spring semester of my junior year, and unsurprisingly I failed every single class (except a poetry class I'd gone to a few more times than the others, so in that one I got a C-.) I felt stuck and lost for awhile, worried my dream of attending law school was dashed forever. Then I finally shook myself out of it, went to the school administration, and pled my case: I'd been a great student to that point, I'd needed to work to support myself, and it had just become too hard to keep up with schoolwork while working that much. I apparently made a compelling case because the university agreed to retroactively withdraw me from that semester of school, and in one day my GPA shot back up from a 3.2 to a 3.6. This happened approximately a month before my parents somehow discovered what was going on and called me in a panic. It was the most fortuitous timing ever that I was able to tell them I had fixed the whole thing, the semester was but a distant memory, and I'd be re-enrolling in the fall to finish up what was left of my degree requirements and graduate in the spring.

(Fun fact: to this day, as in just last week this happened, I still have nightmares in which I find out that I didn't complete all the necessary requirements for my degree and I have to go back and finish a class or I won't be able to practice law. That's right, 15 years later, this is still the gift that keeps on giving nightmares. Don't drop out of school, children. It will haunt you forever even if you go back and finish.)

I tell you all of this only to say that by some miracle, despite this tale of minimal effort and lapses in concentration, I somehow managed to not only get into a top 25 law school and get a full tuition scholarship. How? Well, it wasn't for my 3.6 GPA or my good but not fantastic LSAT score. It was because of my essay. I know this because in my acceptance letter from BU Law School, the admissions director wrote that she loved my essay and that she was submitting me for the Dean's scholarship. When she called a few weeks later to tell me that I had been awarded the scholarship (which was a real miracle, because I was discovering at the time that thanks to a mishap or two with some ill-advised college credit cards I was going to have a hell of a time getting approved for private school loans), she specifically mentioned the essay as the reason all of this was happening.

So what did I write about, you might be wondering? My essay began with the chastising I'd heard from my mother ever since I was a little girl, that I was too opinionated and argumentative (her nickname for me as a child was "Contrary Mary," when she wasn't calling me "Sarah Burnhardt" to mock my dramatic tendencies), too much of an in your face know it all. She used to tell me that nobody would want to be around someone who always felt the need to share their opinion, to disagree for fun, to insist on being right even if it made her sound like Brainy Smurf. But then I wrote about my discovery of so-called second wave feminism and post-feminism, and how Naomi Wolf's "Fire With Fire" had really changed my entire perspective and made me proud to be perceived as a difficult woman because it meant I could do anything I wanted to regardless of what society might think about me being forceful, argumentative and ambitious while also being female. And then I closed with the emotional kicker, that now when my mother talked about me to friends and family, she proudly told them I was going to law school and that I'd make an excellent lawyer, because I've always loved to argue. (I promise, it was better than that, in the way that an impassioned 21 year old can make this sort of thing really pull at the ol' heartstrings, but you get the jist.)

In every book about law school admissions essays that I read, the advice was the same. Stay away from controversy and politics. Write about something safe, something that highlights your charity work, or your desire for public service, or your wish to help make the world a better place. I ignored all of it. This essay, I promise, was about as far from safe as you could get. It was highly personal, but it was about feminism and with the wrong audience I'm sure it would have gone over like a ton of bricks. (Maybe that's why I got waitlisted for Boston College, with its conservative, Jesuit traditions?) But the main thing it had going for it was that it was interesting, and certainly was probably the only essay the admissions staff read that day that took many risks.

My whole life, I've taken the long way to where I wanted to be. I went to FSU, then nearly flunked out, then managed to wing my way into a good law school. I was hired by a good firm out of law school, got laid off after 2 years, thought my work life was over, slummed it for awhile on the plaintiffs' side and then worked at a small products liability firm biding my time, then took the plunge and moved to Atlanta only to make it to my current big firm thanks to one partner's familiarity with my old firm. Even here, I went through periods where I didn't have much work or much motivation, but just when things looked lost I found the right case to sink my teeth into and an opportunity to show what I could do. Now, hopefully, despite the circuitous path I am *thisclose* to the brass ring (I don't want to say the word and jinx myself, so let's just say it rhymes with "fartnership".) I didn't take the most direct path, but I made sure it stayed interesting all along the way.

I compare where I ended up today with the trajectory of my high school classmate, also named Sara(h), who graduated at the same time I did, attended Harvard Law, took the Mass. bar at the same time I did, started working at another large Boston firm at the same time I did (in the same building, no less!), and is now a partner doing securities litigation. She's done everything perfectly and to the hilt, always on the right path, taking the safe course, working as hard as she could all of the time. And maybe she believes she is happy, and she certainly appears to be successful. Perhaps she is both. But I bet she'll never make time to hike the Milford Track. And I can guarantee you I've had more fun along the way.

From time to time I tell the men I date and the close friends in my life the same thing: stick with me, and life may be frustrating, infuriating, crazy and chaotic at times. But it will rarely if ever be boring.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The truth about "Hot Coffee"

Monday night as I lazed on the sofa trying to figure out what to watch on TV, I came across the new HBO documentary "Hot Coffee." The title comes from the now infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit, in which a patron who was burned by hot coffee was awarded millions of dollars. This story has been retold, twisted and bastardized so many times by now that it barely resembles the truth, and so this documentary focused on the evils of tort reform and big business tactics in litigation used the story as the introduction to set the stage. As I watched the whole thing, numerous friends mentioned to me on Twitter that I should be watching it, presumably because I do litigate cases of the sort being described in the doc, and on behalf of evil big business to boot.

The McDonald's hot coffee case is a bit of a personal crusade for me precisely because so few people know the real details. The salient points commonly bandied about are correct: the woman spilled hot coffee on herself, was burned, and won millions at trial thanks to a punitive damages award that was calculated on the basis of McDonalds' daily revenues for sales of coffee. What many people don't know is that the woman was burned severely on much of her body, suffered extensively as a result, and was able to develop evidence at trial of numerous other similar injuries that had provided notice to McDonalds that its coffee was being delivered to customers in a dangerously hot condition (and well above the temperature other drive thru restaurants were serving their coffee at.) The punitive damages award occurred because the jury found McDonalds knew this was a problem that was injuring consumers but declined to fix it. It is far from the travesty of justice that proponents of tort reform would have us believe.

The rest of the documentary focused on four other serious problems with the state of personal injury litigation today: 1) tort reform, 2) damages caps, 3) elected judges, and 4) mandatory arbitration clauses. I happen to not be in favor of any of these things (with the exception of certain tort reform that I think does make sense, more on this later.) The dirty little secret that most defense attorneys don't like to say in public is that we don't particularly like tort reform any more than the plaintiffs do. Our livelihoods depend on having lawsuits to defend, and making it harder to sue people doesn't do us any favors. But apart from that basic defense of my job security, I find all four of these methods of controlling "runaway lawsuits" to be ineffective and unfair.

Tort reform often consists of a package of legislative enactments intended to make it harder to sue companies and harder to win a lot of money doing so. In Georgia, for example, it included several provisions that make a lot of sense--requiring defendants to be sued in the county in which they are located, requiring medical malpractice lawsuits to be supported by an affidavit signed by a physician in the same specialty saying that the care provided was deficient, and a mechanism for offers of judgment that are already available in federal court. It also included things that I didn't like, particularly caps on punitive and non-economic damages. More on those later. But the point is, there are parts of tort reform that I think can make sense and be fair. It is when the tort reform becomes focused on capping what a plaintiff can win even in the most extreme of cases, or when it seeks to shorten the time for filing a lawsuit to points that make almost no sense (such as states that now have just a one year statute of limitations for tort lawsuits) that I start to get uncomfortable.

The second part of the documentary focused on the damages caps enacted in most states, and the situations in which they often leave injured persons and their families holding the bag. Generally damages caps apply to so-called "non-economic damages," i.e. everything but lost wages and out of pocket medical costs. Pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and such "squishy" things are included in the cap, which may be as low as $250,000. The documentary accurately pointed out that some injuries, such as loss of ability to bear children, blindness, or loss of a limb might be considered excruciating to most people but would not be associated with high medical costs or loss of earning capacity, meaning the only way it could be compensated is with non-economic damages. If I lost my uterus in a car accident and learned that I was only getting $250K for the imposed inability to have children, I'd probably think that was a worth a lot more money to me than $250K. If I lost my eyesight, I'd definitely think it was worth more. The documentary also focused on states where the cap is absolute, on all damages. In those instances, where the money from a verdict or settlement runs out, the costs of future care invariably fall to the state and federal governments. The side effect that the documentary did not really explore (probably because it was made by trial lawyers) is that when such provisions are enacted, lawyers stop taking those cases because they cannot make enough money on them, which makes it even harder for people who have been injured by medical malpractice or someone's negligence to even recover the capped amount in a lawsuit.

The third section of the documentary was one that I feel particularly passionate about: electing judges. I have never been comfortable with the concept of allowing people who know nothing about the legal system to decide who should preside over it. I am even less comfortable with allowing judges to take campaign contributions from people and corporations who have cases before them. Massachusetts, where I began my legal career, had appointed judges with a mandatory retirement age at 65. I was shocked and uncomfortable upon coming to Georgia to learn that lawyers running for judicial slots and sitting judges hoping to hold their seats would be coming to our office and asking us for money. I was even more uncomfortable at the notion that my clients with cases winding their way through the courts system could make donations to judges who might hear those cases, and all of this was 100% legal.

However, it is after trying a case in Texas that I have now seen the true worst judicial election situation in the country: judges run as Democrats or Republicans, and voters usually end up electing a "slate" depending on what party is doing well in their county, with absolutely zero knowledge of whether any of the judges are qualified or doing a good job as judges. I hesitate to talk out of school about our judge for my last case, but let's just say that he was younger than I was, the son of a prominent plaintiffs' attorney, and elected in the 2008 Democratic "wave" election in Houston. And he had the worst ratings of any civil judge in Harris County in the survey of attorneys put out by the local legal newspaper. However, we heard horror stories about other judges elected in that same wave who would actually cajole attorneys appearing before them about not yet having received their "check"--for campaign contributions they expected to receive from all local attorneys. The obvious grift on display in Texas is astounding, and demoralizing as a lawyer. We were able to persuade our judge to rule in our favor when it really mattered, and we put on a good case, but in plenty of situations the judge's rulings will make or break a party's chances, or at minimum cause a defendant to spend millions defending a frivolous lawsuit by refusing to dismiss the case at the outset. And it makes me no more comfortable to know that my clients can give massive contributions to those same judges in an effort to influence their decisions--I want no part of that sort of winning.

The documentary's claims about the inability of plaintiffs' attorneys to compete with the Chamber of Commerce in funding judicial elections was probably the part that felt the most "off" to me. The Plaintiffs' bar is a hugely powerful organization and they can certainly compete in terms of dollars and influence. Also, traditionally plaintiffs' attorneys have been fond of electing judges precisely because in many instances they can get their pro-plaintiff buddies into office. The easiest way to get rid of Chamber money in judicial selection is to take judges off the ballot, but I sincerely doubt we will see the AAJ (formerly ATLA) pushing for that radical notion anytime soon.

The final portion of the documentary about mandatory arbitration clauses was by far the most powerful, due primarily to the story of one Jamie Leigh Jones. Most of us do not realize how many times we have unwittingly agreed to arbitrate any dispute we may have with our creditors, employers, or anyone else we've ever signed a preprinted contract with. But what happened to Jones was far more disturbing: she had signed an employment agreement containing a mandatory arbitration clause, and then shortly thereafter was shipped by Halliburton subsidiary KBR to Iraq, where her coworkers drugged and gang-raped her, then locked her in a shipping container. (The story is actually far worse than what was shown in the documentary--the rape was so brutal that it tore her pectoral muscles and ruptured a breast implant, requiring reconstructive surgery, and left her bruised and bloodied. She was examined by a physician who completed a rape kit, and the contents of that kit, including photographs and DNA samples, mysteriously disappeared soon thereafter when the kit was turned over to KBR security.)

When Jones went to sue her employer KBR and the one man who had admitted to her that he had participated, they sought to enforce the arbitration clause and have the lawsuit thrown out of court. Years later, the 5th Circuit court of appeals disagreed and ruled that Jones' suit could go to trial in the court system instead of a secret arbitration. In fact, Jones' trial began two weeks ago in Houston, and is currently ongoing. I have been watching the news and the federal court docket in her case with great interest in the outcome. In what should come as a shock to noone, KBR is now calling Jones a liar and claiming her sex was consensual and that there is no evidence to say otherwise (especially with no rape kit contents to worry about.)

Our own Hank Johnson in Georgia's 4th congressional district has been pushing for years to pass legislation prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses from being included in these sorts of contracts. The legislation has not made it far to date, but hopefully as more people become aware of the abuse of mandatory arbitration clauses, this is an issue that will receive more attention. While it may make sense for some disputes to be arbitrated, certainly the provisions are over-used now and should not cover all types of potential disputes. In the meantime, Al Franken's amendment prohibiting companies doing work for the federal government from having arbitration clauses in their employment contracts that would include claims like Jones' claims did pass, so that at least is good news.

Overall, Hot Coffee was an interesting and thought-provoking piece, but with an obvious slant. I've seen the other side and I know there are no documentary film-makers itching to make movies about stupid, bogus lawsuits but if there were I would have BOATLOADS of material. It is a problem, in that my clients often end up paying northwards of $2 million from inception of the case through trial in order to prove their products didn't injure anyone. That may seem like highway robbery, but it's a necessary cost to retain the right experts, take the right depositions, get and review ALL the medical records, produce the necessary company documents, draft and file the right motions, and get ready for and complete a successful trial. That's just for one case, but big companies that make products like drugs, medical devices, cars, or tractors might get sued hundreds of times a year. And it's not like they can just offer to pay every plaintiff a quarter of what they'd spend to defend the case, because as soon as they did that they'd get 3 times as many cases as news spread of their willingness to open the checkbook in order to avoid litigation costs. So, not that I am suggesting you should feel bad for big business, but consider the alternatives that a big company has--pay millions to defend each case and clear their name every time, or pay millions in settlements and verdicts, or stop making products that could ever potentially be involved in any injury. These are not good options. Defending the cases vigorously and sending the message that our products are good products that never hurt anyone, and that we're going to fight back if we ever get sued, is the best of the flawed options. And it's precisely what makes everything in this country cost more than it needs to.

The other concept that I think got lost somewhere along the way is that people can get hurt without it being anyone's fault. I had an argument awhile back about vaccine litigation, and someone told the story of how they had a cousin who was severely disabled following a bad reaction to a vaccine. She assumed that was the vaccine manufacturer's fault and that they should pay for the lifetime care of that child. But people can have a "bad reaction" to almost anything--I could drink a glass of milk tomorrow and go into anaphylactic shock, through no fault of the cow or dairy. It could even kill me. Vaccines are no different than any other chemical compound ingested into the human body, be it medication, food, vitamin supplements, or beauty products. All of it can really hurt us for no particular reason. So often in my cases I see a situation where a person is severely injured and it was around the same time as they were taking this drug, or using this device, and so they assume it must be the result of that drug or device and that the manufacturer must be responsible. But they seem to have forgotten the notion that SHIT HAPPENS--people get sick, people have allergic reactions, people develop medical conditions and people have bad outcomes in surgeries or hospitalizations. None of these things necessarily mean that anyone did anything wrong.

The challenge for us defense attorneys is to remind judges and jurors that shit happens. It's not always the role that we want to be in, and it can be a tough argument. The plaintiff's attorney is essentially trying to argue that the shit wasn't there before the drug or the device, and suddenly it was there, and we have no other obvious cause, so clearly the shit is the fault of the drug or device. There is a simplicity to their argument, which is their greatest weapon. Plenty of jurors can be convinced that temporal relationship is sufficient to meet the preponderance of the evidence standard. So before everyone goes worrying that we've made it impossible to win a lawsuit in this country because Hot Coffee told you so, I'd advise you to start reading the legal newspapers in your city for a month. Think critically about what the producers of the documentary (trial attorneys, by the way) have to gain from it. Recognize there are two sides to every story. Yes, there are many tales of abuse of the legal system on both sides, and many tales of people who have been negatively impacted by tort reform, big business tactics, and defense attorneys like me. But as with almost any story, the facts depend on who's telling it. Hot Coffee got a lot right, but it got a lot wrong and left a lot out. Dig deeper.

Monday, June 06, 2011


So, I've been gone for awhile but I had a really good reason. I just returned from a monthlong trial in first jury trial. And we won. I can't really post about the trial itself, as much as I might want to, but I can say that I learned a great deal.

One of the most important things I learned is what really matters, based on what you can and cannot live without for an extended period of time. I've read or watched almost zero news or sports over the last few months, and I haven't missed it. I haven't watched a single moment of television except for the Indy 500 since sometime in March. I slept very little. I felt at times completely out of touch with what was going on in the world. And it was very disorienting, but I could live without those things if I needed to, because it was important.

What I could not live without, even though I had to try, was the love and support of my friends and family, the people who really matter to me. Being out of touch from them was nearly physically painful, so much so that I jumped at an opportunity to run home for a quick weekend to spend with those I really care about. It was glorious, and it kept me sane. And now that I'm back, I still haven't gone grocery shopping, done laundry, restocked my fridge or my bathroom cabinets, or anything essential like that. Instead I've spent 2 days being around the people I missed so much, and will continue to do so for much of this week. I am home, in every sense of the word, and it's what I craved and felt so deprived of for the past month of trial and even the weeks leading up to it.

The greatest lesson I learned is to appreciate and revel in that wonderful feeling of being home with those I love, because it's the one thing that I will desperately long for when I don't have it. I'm looking forward to not knowing that feeling again for a good long while.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oh hey

So I went on that crazy trip to New Zealand, and it was amazing, and then I came back to the single busiest period at work that I have ever experienced. I seriously will bill 180 hours in 2.5 weeks this month, putting me on pace for a 270 hour month if I hadn't been on vacation until March 13th. NUTSO!

But because I've posted it everywhere else, I should post here my Flickr set of the photos I took. I'd also link to link to the photos taken by my traveling companion if he will make them publicly available. His are MUCH better than mine because I spent most of the 4 day 33.5 mile hike through the Milford Track trying not to die. He was a little more relaxed, having only to work hard at trying not to kill me. (Perhaps this explains why there were actually bets at our local bar as to whether we would still be speaking post-17 days together in New Zealand and hiking over a f*cking mountain. For the record: the answer is yes, you suckers.) The picture above is one of his that I have shamelessly stolen, and hopefully he won't mind.

Also, this Flickr set is from some guys who were on the hike with us, and they also took amazing photographs. That should give you a great sense of just what the hike was like...and someday I will find the time and energy to relive the whole trip here in great detail. But not today.

Also, I have videos on a YouTube page but I won't link them until I find the time to edit all together into one long video. Right now it has a serious case of the shakeycams, and some clips are just a few seconds. But I will get it done sometime this year, even if it has to be in July.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Eulogy

It was late September of 2001, and I was a first year associate in a big law firm, living on Beacon Hill with my soon to be ex-boyfriend. We were still trying to find our way through the collective national nightmare and hangover of September 11th. Gabe had started smoking again, and we were both pretty frayed from the stress and anxiety. One of us, I don't even remember which, had the bright idea that what we needed to bring us out of our funk was to get a kitten. We both loved and had grown up with cats, and it seemed like the sort of thing that would bring us a sorely needed dose of happy playfulness.

We went to a pet store in a nearby suburb and signed up for a waiting list with a local shelter they worked with. A few weeks later we got a call that two black and white kittens, brothers from a mama cat that had been hit by a car when they were still just tiny, had come in from the shelter and were available for adoption. We needed to come get one that afternoon or it would be offered to someone else. So, we raced down to the pet store only to discover that one of the two kittens had already been adopted. The one that was left had been named Linus by the shelter, a beautiful little black and white kitten with one black ear and one white ear, a mask of black covering about 3/4 of his face, and along his back with a white belly and feet. His tail was black with a tiny little white tip. I wanted him immediately.

As the pet store was filling out the paperwork and loading us up with all of the gear we would need, we heard how we had just missed the family that had adopted Linus' brother Pigpen. I wondered if they had gotten the "better cat," but as we were leaving with Linus in a carrier and a sack full of food and toys, the family came back with the other kitten because they had forgotten something. Linus' brother was almost entirely white with just a few flecks of black here and there. We had clearly gotten the cuter of the two. We drove home with him in the carrier, and it was only when we exited Storrow Drive at the Esplanade that he meowed for the first time. The first of so many.

We renamed him Claudio, at my ex's urging because he was an obsessive classical music fan and at the time his obsessions were with Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau. (He first wanted to name the cat Ludwig or Wolfgang and I said no, so Claudio seemed like a bargain.) He was almost 12 weeks old when we got him, so not a tiny kitten for very long, but extremely energentic and curious. He made us so happy right away, even as he attacked our feet under the covers in the middle of the night, or bit Gabe on the nipple once when he got out of the shower, or fought a little too hard and drew blood and cries of pain when we play fought with him. Claudio played to win, all the time, every time. And as much as I didn't like the slash marks on my arms, the middle of the night attack dive-bombs as he tried to kill the snore monster in my face, or the finicky way he'd been sweet one second and then nasty the next, I loved the little booger.

He was mean to almost everyone, including sometimes me, because he very much did not like people trespassing in his home. He would howl and hiss at visitors when I had parties, and though I tried to tell them not to pet him, he invariably drew blood from someone who pushed it too far. He defied any attempts to keep him from eating people food, including thefts of meat or fish directly off of my plate on more than one occasion. When caught, he would stare you right in the eye and say "what?" like it was your fault for being dumb enough to turn your back for even a second. Even at the end, when he'd poop on the living room floor, he'd just look at me like shame or guilt were the last things on his mind. He had to go, and that was where he happened to be at the moment the urge hit, and I could just forget about talking him out of it. That's how he was.

But he was also capable of being so incredibly sweet, particularly when I was at home alone and feeling lousy. Claudio knew when to give me a nose-to-nose rub, or curl up with a purring belly at my side when I was sick, or hung over, or crying because yet another guy in my life post-Gabe decided to act like a jackass. Most of my friends and family never saw this side of him, but he brought so much comfort to me through some really tough times. Gabe and I broke up 3 months after we got him, then I got laid off and went through a period of extended unemployment, then I went to work in a job I came to hate, I moved several times, then I quit that job and moved to Georgia, then I moved twice more before settling into my house, and through all of this change and turmoil, Claudio was a source of great comfort and peace to me.

He was ridiculously smart for a cat: in Boston, when still very young he would climb my clothes while hanging in the closet, which as you might imagine was not desirable because of all the pulls and tears it caused. I put child-proofing sliders on the tops of the closet doors that were intended to keep him out of the closet. One day as I sat gape-mouthed in amazement watching, he climbed onto the elliptical trainer, jumped from there to the top of the bookshelf next to the closet, and then reached over and slid the childproofing off the door. He then dismounted and opened the closet. I have never seen anything like that in my life. But he was also stupid, and would do ridiculous things like try to sniff a burning candle and singe off half of his whiskers (this actually happened), or go chasing after a bug head-first into a wall.

He loved coffee and cigarettes, which caused my mother to call him Garfield. I don't drink coffee or own a coffeemaker, but when my parents would come to town while in Boston or as they were building their house in Georgia, they would go out to get coffee, and the cat would just go nuts to get his head in their coffee cups. Somewhere in the nascent days of this blog there was a picture of Claudio with his head stuck in a Starbucks cup, but sadly that photograph is now lost to the ether. He would lick the fingers of any smokers I brought home (of which there were...a few), right on the spot where they held their cigarettes. One night a particular guy left an open pack of smokes on the table while we slept, and Claudio ate a part of a cigarette. He looked pretty sick the next day. He also ate virtually anything I put a piece of on the floor for him, including cake, avocado, tomatoes, mushrooms, biscuits, potatoes, you name it. I think most of the time he was just happy that he didn't have to sneak bites when he thought I wasn't looking, so he was damn sure going to finish it.

The day we got him from that pet store, we purchased a cat toy that is essentially a tiny fishing rod with a string and a piece of denim at the end. He loved this toy. When I would take it out of its hiding place in the table next to my front door, he would start making this eh-eh-eh-eh-eh noise that he also made when he was hunting a bug in the house. We would play with this toy for hours, until his nose was so red that I knew he was wiped. I still have that toy, which is now reduced to a bundle of frayed denim threads at the end of that string. We played with it one day this week, but he was too tired to do too much with it.

As I wrote about a few months ago, Claudio was diagnosed with lymphoma in November just before Thanksgiving. I opted to put him on steroids, which temporarily shrank his tumors and gave me nearly three months with him at almost full speed before he started to rapidly decline last week. On Monday, he had vomited a large amount when I got home from work, and I knew the end was coming. He was better on Tuesday and Wednesday when I worked from home while sick with the flu, but he seemed tired. By Thursday and Friday, he was eating far less than usual. On Saturday I could only get him to eat a little bit of tuna, and by Sunday even tuna and chicken were not enticing him like they usually would. The vet had told me that after the steroids stopped working at the tumors started growing again, that eventually I would know it was time to end his life when he stopped eating. That would be the sign that the tumors were starting to close off his digestive system. So, knowing what was about to happen, yesterday I made an appointment at the vet. He seemed so tired and weak all day on Saturday and Sunday, and I knew I wanted to end it before he was in real pain.

Before we left, I brushed him and blow-dryed his back, which I knew he loved and made him purr for the only time that day. I carried him out to the back deck and let him feel the sun and the wind, see the trees and squirrels and birds out there, and to spend a calm and quiet moment with him before changing things forever. The vet examined him, said the tumors were fairly large and pushing on his stomach which was causing him not to eat, and confirmed there was little they could do to treat him at that point. I couldn't be there at the moment he died, so I signed the paperwork and authorized them to give him a sedative with painkiller, and then a controlled overdose of anesthesia to stop his breathing and heart. He growled the whole time while I cried and petted him, praying for a moment of peace as our last few minutes together. Then, they left with him and I waited and cried.

My baby cat is gone. He was 9 years old, would have been 10 in June. He was beautiful, and crazy, and sweet, and mean, and brazen and brilliant, and defiant, and stupid, and loving. He left scratch marks on the walls, stains on my rugs, scars on my arms, unrelenting white fur on every surface of my house, and I will miss him terribly every single day for a very, very long time.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

So this is crazy, right?

My 2011 is off to a crazy start, and has the potential to be a truly whirlwind year before all is said and done. I have two trials set this year already, with two more cases to be set for trial at some point and others that could find their way onto trial calendars before too long. One of those cases is not set until May, but we have a ton of expert depositions still to be taken in the meantime, and major motions to be drafted. All of that needs to be completed by sometime in March, which will be here much sooner than we think.

I tell you this only to set up the sheer insanity of what I am about to say.

For awhile now, I have been lamenting my lack of travel partners to the many places on my travel wish list. It is sad that at 35 years old, I've only just recently acquired a passport and taken my first trip outside the U.S., and that was to Vancouver. Not exactly a stretch. Well, last year I met someone who is as down with international travel as I am, and who has traveled yearly to New Zealand for several years now. A few months ago, on a whim because of low airfares, we gave serious thought to setting a trip there in February or March of this year (the tail end of their summer, given the change in hemisphere.) Ultimately, fiscal responsibility concerns for both of us made us elect not to book...but we made a deal that if my year-end bonus was over amount X, we'd go.

Well, my year end bonus was paid out on Friday and to my complete and total shock, it was not only over amount X but almost twice that much. We talked about it over the weekend and starting planning where and when we would go. I have a settlement conference in New Jersey on February 22nd, so I cannot go before then, but I thought we could find a way to squeeze in two weeks there at the end of February and beginning of March. All I had to do was get permission from my boss.

I haven't asked her yet, but as I've spent this week trying to plan out everything that must be done for my approaching trial and to set depositions in this case and in another case in which discovery closes in February, I've realized that it is truly insane of me to try to take a two week out of pocket vacation during this time period. And yet, the more I realize that my first six months of 2011 are going to be batshit insane of the working all night and never sleeping variety, I am more convinced than ever that my sanity DEMANDS that I do this.

I should go, right? I should demand from my boss that she give me permission, and show that I can do this and still get everything done. I should go. Even though airfare is $3000 (premium economy is the only way to go when the flight is 17 hours and your legs are 47" hip to heel, dontchaknow), and even though my parents find it nutso that I will travel to a foreign country with someone they have never even met -- they're very quaint about this -- I should totally make this work.


I have only taken two real vacations in my entire adult post-graduation life, and both were only a week long. I also worked some during both trips, and stayed within the U.S. in places where I could be regularly connected if necessary. New Zealand for two weeks demands that I just accept I will be out of contact for most of the time, and if people need me they have to friggin' wait. Or figure it out on their own. I love this idea, but I know the people I work with will hate it. But instead of thinking this is why this idea is dumb and crazy and irresponsible, I'm thinking this is why I have to do it.

I just pray she says yes.

Friday, December 31, 2010

FSU football predictions: How'd I do?

You may remember that back in July I wrote a post predicting how FSU's football season would go. Well, with the bowl game tonight I think it's high time I revisit those predictions and see how I did in the prognostication department.

Anticipated Final Regular Season Record: 9-3
Actual Final Regular Season Record: 9-3

Well howsabout that!

Predicted Wins: Samford, BYU, Wake, Virginia, Boston College, N.C. State, Maryland
We beat everyone on this list except N.C. State. We also beat Miami and Florida.

Predicted Losses: Oklahoma, Florida
We lost to Oklahoma, did not lose to Florida. We also lost to N.C. State and North Carolina, and to Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. We should not have lost to N.C. State or North Carolina, both resulted from last second disasters, but that's a story for another day.

Predicted Could Go Either Way (i.e. we'll win at least one and lose at least one, I just can't predict which ones): Clemson, Miami, UNC
We beat Miami and Clemson, lost to UNC. I should have put Florida in this category, in retrospect.

Back in July, I wrote this:

However, I do think we have a very good shot for the first time in awhile of beating Florida, though I couldn't in good conscience move it into the tossup category. But I won't be shocked at all if it happens.
Shows what I know. We killed Florida, absolutely annihilated them, and I was there to watch it all. I, like many others, did not realize exactly how bad that team would be with a new QB and a lousy Offensive Coordinator.

I also wrote this back in July:

Miami could be great this year or mediocre, and it is really too early to tell. I think we will probably lose to them because the game is in Miami, but we do always play them pretty tough and close, so I have to leave that one a tossup.
Hahaha! Actually to say Miami was mediocre would be generous. That game was probably our best overall game of the season, in terms of every aspect of the team clicking at the right times. We beat them by four touchdowns, in Miami. It was GLORIOUS.

I predicted that Christian Ponder would be a top 5 NFL draft pick, and that was glaringly wrong. Ponder will be drafted, but probably not until after the first day of the draft. He was too injured for much of this year to be as effective as he was last year.

I also said this:
[E]ven with the improvement of a defense-heavy recruiting class and all new defensive coaching, our defense is likely to just go from terrible to mediocre.
For awhile there, it looked like we were going to have a top 25 defense, something simply unfathomable back when I wrote these predictions. However, a few tough games at the end and some serious injury issues on the D-line caused us to fall back into the 60th range. Still, to take a defense ranked 100th out of 120 teams last year and bring them up into the top half of defenses nationally, that was a great turnaround for first year Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops.

I said this about whether FSU would win the ACC:

We certainly can. If we lose only one ACC game, as I anticipate (and especially if it's to Miami or UNC who are not in our division), then we should at minimum make the title game. Many are predicting BC will win our division because they play UVA and Duke--the two patsies of the league--but we will probably beat BC and if we each only have one conference loss then the head to head game will be the tiebreaker. Having said that, whoever comes out of the other division--Va Tech, Miami, Ga Tech, or UNC--is going to be a pretty tough team to beat in the conference championship game. FSU can do it, but I can't predict that it will happen this year.

We made the title game, and that was fantastic for Jimbo Fisher's first year. (Granted, we needed some help to get there since 2 of our 3 losses were to ACC teams.) But I was pretty sure we would play Va Tech in the title game, and pretty sure we would lose to them. And I was right.
And finally, I said this:

I am also so incredibly ready for the modern era of football as ushered in by Jimbo Fisher to finally get here. I am ready to start kicking Florida's ass again. I am ready to do the warchant and the tomahawk chop and to scream with joy for my team, rather than scaring small children with my stream of angry profanities (true story). I do not fear change, I embrace it. This is Jimbo's team now.

I got to do all of these things this year, and it was better than I could possibly have imagined. Jimbo Fisher's first year as head coach has been a great triumph, and we have an incredibly bright future ahead. Many are projecting FSU to have the top recruiting class in the country this year, after the No. 4 or No. 6 (depending on who you ask) class last year. We have a quarterback taking over the reigns next year who has already started 6 games as an underclassman, with a 4-2 record (losses coming to Florida last year and Va Tech this year.) E.J. Manuel could very well be the second coming of Charlie Ward, and our defense will only continue to improve. Very, very good things are coming our way.

However, I don't think we will beat South Carolina tonight. And that's OK.